I sigh at the end of a long day. I take off my bra and slump onto my bed in sheer relief that the day is almost over even if my tasks are not. I stretch out like a cat and look at my skin, I notice a beauty spot I had not before, I acknowledge my mildly sunken breast-fed bosom, my long slender legs, my measured toes, realizing I had not looked at myself in a while. There was still, much to discover.
My thoughts drift to the whole idea of being a woman. Trying to live a balanced life, sometimes, seems to leave me feeling a victim of the gender equality enthrals which I am yet to understand as a feminist in my own right. For what is feminism anyway? It is one of the 21st century’s most contested ideology, it is said.
To me, feminism starts with accepting that I am a woman and a mother, who views all things from the whole- not in parts; who innately has an instinct to nurture and nourish. But beyond that, it means believing that I have a choice, and within that choice, I do not have to compromise what I hold dear as a woman, neither be judged for it.
In living, listening and observing, gender equality has been presented to me as an impetus to try as hard as possible to be at per with men- in this case portrayed as our adversaries. I find I am dealing with issues in parts (not wholes)- compartmentalizing life. In turn, translating this to economic gain and advancement, even if the air we breathe is killing us- as I lose touch with what feminism stood for, to me.
Rewinding to the conversations I had with a couple of female friends, owing to my journalistic way of dealing with doubts in my life, I managed to gain a wider perspective. One woman I look up to, who has managed to sustain her career beside a highly supportive husband, and who had studied gender and development, said to me, “I once thought I was a feminist until I did my masters and realized I am not a feminist.” I asked her why and she explained it was because she felt that feminism from her academic experience appeared to be a group of bitter women verses men. I was glad I found someone I could relate with. We both agreed that this was against the true feminist nature of uniting. Despite her lifestyle and advancement as a woman, she shied away from labelling herself a feminist. Yet, in the intricate foundations of feminism, she was in my eyes, very much a true feminist who had successfully united all areas of her life.
The term has in many ways evolved to form conflicting branches of feminism. For the single, the worse. Feminist = angry single woman who despises men! It may be challenging, if I call myself a feminist, to prove my reality of the matter (which is quite the contrary) despite the backdrop of being a victim of chauvinism, of having experienced sexism in the workplace, raising my child solely, financially burdened, often fatigued, though happy … in whole.
I further to this introspection, had the privilege of interviewing a couple of women who had made it or were making it in their careers. I jumped at this opportunity rather enthusiastically because I thought I could finally get solid answers to the questions I battled with as a woman, mother, single and maybe even singular person.
By the end of the interviews I was only filled with more doubt.
The women definitely made huge sacrifices to family life or had very supportive spouses who allowed them the flexibility they needed to take time to grow their businesses/ careers, or, were women who did not have children and therefore had more time to be able to focus on growing their career successes. None of the about 10 circumstances were those I could relate to, unfortunately. Added to that, I recognized I was not as willing or wanting to make the sacrifices they did, within the context of being a so-called feminist.
In another intriguing talk I had attended, a woman who made it to high ranks in her career, said openly, “You can’t have it all, you will need to choose what you are going to sacrifice.” I was taken aback by her openness which is becoming less common in place of the ‘I can do it all’ voices. As much as we are making advancements, are we still doing it the patriarchal way, or are we truly embracing what genuine feminism might stand for- mother nature, choice, equity.
As I continued to ponder on the idea of feminism and gender equality, the universe seemed to be sending me the insight I needed. I then came across the 100 Women podcast where Rachida Dati- member of the European Parliament, formerly Nicolas Sarkozy’s spokesperson- narrated her journey and choices with the most genuine confidence a woman could display. She is nothing short of stunning by the virtue of the strong presence she holds. No uncertainty, no guilt whatsoever for returning to work just 3 days after the birth of her child, or for having a child outside of marriage as a Muslim woman, and no shame in stating that, lucky for her, her resources allowed her to do so. She presented to me another side of feminism in a respectable (not antagonistic) manner. Rachida ensured that she had a choice and did not let anyone’s judgement cloud that.
That to me also represented a form of true feminism, even if I myself would not have perhaps made the same choices she did. As a feminist in my own right, I respected that she created choice, stood her ground and could openly make reference to her resources – an important aspect of the gender equality affair.
This is because, outside of what feminism means to women of elite standing, or to those who as Rachida, managed to penetrate glass ceilings, data shows that other women who work all day, are still expected to be the ultimate homemakers, to solely attend to their children’s needs and to personally serve their husbands meals. Yet, all the work they do, outside their “privilege” (not right) of being able to participate in the job market, cannot be valued.
Until a woman’s homemaking work is somehow added to the GDP of a country, until a woman can take adequate time off to have a baby without losing her significance in the job market, until a woman can have access to the same opportunities without compromising her CHOICE to prepare the evening family meal, or her deep desire to read the bedtime stories and attend the mothers workshop (or on the other hand not to have children at all without being judged), then we remain overwhelmed, overburdened, brave women trying to carry the world on our shoulders.
In conclusion, equality is not justice, and we need the latter to make equality work.
The first nation-builder is the woman; she is the heart of any home, she is the one who returns to care for the elderly parents, and the world needs to be able to let her plan her life around that, without having to compromise one or the other, at any social stratum.
Are you a feminist (woman or man)? What is feminism to you?